On the morning that the Oscar nominations were announced, the biggest news coming out of the entertainment industry somehow wasn’t Greta Gerwig’s snub or American Fiction’s surprising haul of five nods. It also wasn’t the announcement that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is joining the board of directors at TKO Group (which consists of UFC and WWE). No, the biggest news is that starting in January 2025, WWE’s flagship series, Raw, will be moving to Netflix.
The deal, reportedly valued at $5 billion over a 10-year period, will not only make Netflix the home for Raw in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and the U.K.—outside the U.S., Netflix will also be the home of SmackDown, NXT, and WWE’s premium live events, including mainstays like WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and SummerSlam. The announcement finalizes the fates of all three of WWE’s weekly series in the U.S.—SmackDown is heading to the USA Network in October 2024, and NXT will make its CW debut the same month—and comes on the heels of rumors from earlier this January that both Amazon and Warner Bros. Discovery were also entertaining the idea of getting into the wrestling business. All of this may come as a surprise to those who haven’t been keeping up with WWE’s heavy interest in selling off its rights, but even if you’ve been paying attention, the idea that Raw will be showing up alongside Stranger Things, Squid Game, and Bridgerton is a lot to swallow. (Meanwhile, the announcement helped the TKO stock rise 18.1 percent, to $91.40 a share, on Tuesday morning, which, unfortunately, is news you can no longer use.)
As we wait for more details on this massive deal—and, you know, the 11 months before we can actually cue up WWE on Netflix on a Monday night—these are the biggest questions to ponder.
What will happen to Raw in Q4 of 2024?
WWE’s current deal has Raw airing on the USA Network until October 2024. For those who don’t know how a calendar works, that means WWE’s flagship show will seemingly be without a home for the last three months of this year, which is also the time when WWE will be building up to its final PLE of the year, November’s Survivor Series. But what does that mean for WWE at the end of the year? It may have a few options.
As WWE’s deal with Peacock isn’t set to expire until 2026, there could be the option of running two months of Raw solely on Peacock, which isn’t a foreign concept considering the service has aired everything from WWE’s weekly talk show The Bump to its recent 2024 preview special to this coming weekend’s Royal Rumble. Most fans subscribe to Peacock to watch WWE’s PLEs anyway, so this might be the most seamless option. WWE is also sitting at more than 99 million subscribers on YouTube at the moment; The Bump also airs there, as do its post-PLE press conferences. But who knows: Maybe WWE is working on something specific to mark the first time in the history of Raw that it won’t be airing on linear TV. (There’s also the option for WWE and NBCUniversal to extend their deal to continue airing Raw on the USA Network until January 2025. Considering their history and the fact that SmackDown will be starting its USA run at that time, this option would work in USA’s favor.)
I joked that WWE could put Raw on the (free) CW app, but barring that, the need to pay for an additional streaming service to watch Raw will be one of the biggest changes in all of this. In the past, if you (or your parents!) paid for a particular TV package, you were guaranteed new WWE content every Monday night. If you’re not paying for Netflix in January 2025, you’re gonna be SOL. Whatever WWE chooses, this stretch when Raw isn’t airing on USA will be the most important time to put over getting a Netflix subscription to watch Raw, the same way Triple H got the price of the WWE Network over with the WWE crowd.
Will Raw on Netflix continue to be a three-hour show?
Watching Raw on Monday nights can be a mixed bag, and a lot of that comes down to the length of the show. It’s been 11 (!) years since Raw added a third hour, completely astounding the healthy contingent who felt that two hours was already enough. Over the course of this decade-plus, the show has run the gamut: Some nights, you may have a great opening match, a great main event, and the appearance of someone like CM Punk to spar with Cody Rhodes. (Sidebar: This segment from Raw this week was destined to be Tuesday’s top story before Ted Sarandos and Co. finalized their offer.) Other weeks? Your significant other would rustle you from a slumber at 10:12 p.m., wondering whether you just want to call it a night.
Will Raw on Netflix need a third hour? It depends on what that third hour will be used for or, more importantly, how it’s being looked at now. If the only reason WWE added an hour was to increase ad revenue while airing on a linear network, it may no longer be necessary. Netflix has also historically been driven by its algorithms—surely it’ll take a data-driven approach to determine Raw’s ideal length.
Would Netflix force WWE to tighten up the running time if the algorithm says a two-hour Raw is preferred? For $5 billion, WWE would probably be willing to make Raw 30 minutes long if Netflix thought that’d work better. All jokes aside, one has to wonder how involved Netflix will be with WWE’s product. Netflix has been known to give creators freedom—but only as long as they deliver eyeballs.
What is the future of WWE’s massive library?
Where WWE goes, its library of classic pay-per-views, episodes of Raw, documentaries, and archival footage from defunct wrestling federations like World Class Championship Wrestling goes with it. Part of this Netflix deal points to that fact, at least for international members of the WWE Universe: Netflix will be where most WWE content resides, effectively doing away with the WWE Network, which continued to operate overseas long after it was shut down in the States. That’s a huge yet unavoidable change for those who don’t subscribe to Netflix.
Take that thought a step further, though. As mentioned earlier, WWE’s deal with Peacock lasts until 2026, meaning that Peacock will remain WWE’s main home for PLEs and legacy content for the foreseeable future. The question, then, is what happens after 2026. With the gears already in motion to make Netflix the destination for WWE overseas, it’s only logical to assume that the two companies will want to do the same in the U.S. WWE has a lot to offer a streamer: a deep library of endlessly rewatchable content to get lost in. Plus, before its move to Peacock, WWE worked to remove racist content from its archives, which would allow for a smooth transition from one provider to another, if need be.
All of this leads to one question I had even before this WWE deal …
What is Peacock’s future?
It’s safe to say that Peacock is now on the clock and must figure out a plan in the event that WWE departs in 2026. For viewers who bought Peacock only to watch new WWE PLEs and weren’t converted by series like Bel-Air or Twisted Metal, there may be no reason to stick with the service if WWE jumps ship. Despite some success—Peacock has the English Premier League, and it did just set some records broadcasting its first NFL wild-card playoff game—Peacock has lived near the bottom of our Streaming Wars ranking ever since it was launched in August 2022. Losing that WWE tab on the Peacock homepage would be devastating for a streamer that already needs a lot of help.
There’s plenty of time to avoid this fate, but it’ll require NBCUniversal to do one of two things, and both of them will be expensive. Either Peacock needs to figure out how to afford keeping WWE PLEs on its streamer exclusively, or it needs to start investing in other top-tier streaming content. Of course, if NBCUniversal could afford to spend more money, it probably would’ve just outbid Netflix.
Is this just the beginning for Netflix?
In the larger content acquisition game, the live sports licensing race has turned out to be the battle we expected it to be. There was a time when the reported $200 million to $250 million a year WWE makes from its Peacock deal was unheard of, but as the landscape has changed, live sports have become more valuable than ever. Amazon already paid big bucks for its 11-year Thursday Night Football deal with the NFL, and that netted it only 16 Thursday night games in the 2023-24 season! Peacock paid $110 million for that one wild-card game! WWE is a well-oiled machine, guaranteed to produce hours of content every week. This isn’t Netflix’s first foray into the livestreaming space, but it’s certainly its biggest so far.
Last fall, The New York Times reported that the NBA could be looking to double the $24 billion that’s being paid between Disney and WBD to air games across their channels. Will Disney and WBD be willing—or able—to foot the bill? If not, will Netflix step up to the table? What’s happening in the wrestling world today could easily be a precursor for what happens across the sports landscape in the years to come.